Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Politician as Planner

According to Courtney Watson, twenty percent of the county councilpersons time is spent on zoning issues. Since the council also sits as the zoning board they are tasked with some of the same challenges faced by planning professionals, weighing individual property owners’ rights and interests against the greater public good.

After Courtney placed the one dissenting vote against Pat McCuan’s planned redevelopment of the property at the intersection of US Route 1 and Montevideo Road I asked her what her objections were. She told me she “wasn't sold on the additional drive through lanes allowed for the restaurant…. It doesn't mean I don't like the project, but that I wasn't convinced the changes needed to be made to make the project viable.”

It’s a tough call. The ability to have a drive thru window is often a prerequisite for attracting a chain restaurant. According to this article by Tom Vanderbilt in Slate, “drive-throughs account for some 65 percent of McDonald's U.S. sales—a stunning demonstration of the radical shift in traffic culture, and increase in driving, since the early 1970s. The window has become so crucial that McDonald's actually demolished an outpost that was slated for renovation in San Luis Obispo, Calif., after the city upheld its ban on drive-throughs. (A company spokesman said, "We can't build a million-dollar McDonald's and not have a drive thru. We just can't do it.")”

Without the ability to provide a drive through window for a restaurant, the developer may not be able to attract a restaurant. Without a national credit restaurant chain to anchor the project the developer may not be able to secure financing. Without financing the project won’t be built and the redevelopment of the Route 1 corridor could be further delayed.

On the other hand, San Luis Obispo isn’t the only municipality taking a hard look at drive through windows “as people question the drive-through's environmental impact, its place in the evolving landscape of obesity (a 1,420-calorie Hardee's Monster Thickburger without having to leave your seat!), and even who has the right to step up to its crackly intercom.”

The politician planner is left to decide which of these paths is in the best interests of the community.


Anonymous said...

Watson may have an interesting point, but why just vote against it instead of asking some questions or even showing some leadership in an amendment or even working with the developer. WHat better ideas does she have to support business investment in Route 1?

Anonymous said...

I read, with interest, this story in the Sun,0,623195.story

I wonder who wil win for Watson this time--politician or planner.

I'm sure Cathy "anti-everything" Hudson is telling her to oppose all development along Rt 1, even though with "a very real need for industrial and manufacturing property" this property has been vacant for decades and will likely be a wasteland for another 20 years.

However, her constituents desperately need a free 20-acre school site plus $4 million.

The County, including Watson claim to support transit and revitalizing Route 1.

Wonder what she and the rest of those folks will do.

Anonymous said...

Hold up anon 6:43.
I know Cathy to be a good person and Courtney has been a good representative to me. However, she does need to come up with some more answers to the challenges in the area than just "no".

BTW, isnt the Coca-Cola plant in Ball's (not sure of his first name) district?

wordbones said...

Anon 6:43 PM,

The CoCa-Cola land was "vacant for decades" because Coca-Cola would not sell the property. Several developers bought them offers over the years yet they hung on to the property to keep their options open.


Anonymous said...

The whole idea of redevelopment along route one is to do something better than fast food restaurants with double drive through lanes. The next zoning change they'll want for is to allow a car dealership because they can't get financing to build the office building without it.

Now, not only this development, but all land zoned CE along route one will allow fast food restaurants with drive through lanes because of this zoning change for this one project.

Come on - we can do better. This developer can do better.

Anonymous said...

I'll pose a question.

What if a majority of Americans--or HoCo residents--would like to be fat and don't give a rip about the environment, and don't have a sense of aesthetic beauty, so they don't care what Rte. 1 looks like?

Don't they have a right to their individual choices?

Take your average Chevrolet Suburban owner, that is, half of the population of Columbia and Ellicott City. They choose to drive one of the most heavily polluting vehicles availabe in the U.S., that gets just about the worst mileage possible, so they can go to soccer games and park on the lawn.

Seriously, you're going to worry about obesity and fast-food drive through lanes? Let's focus here, people.

Rte. 1 solution? Bulldozers. Start at the river and drive north. Rte. 1 is New Jersey at it's worst, right here in the heart of "The Land of Pleasant Living." Torch it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:18,
What came out of the route one community based task force which led to the route one manual, were specific attributes of redevelopment desired by the community (including developers). That is why fast food drive through lanes were not allowed in the zoning regulations for some zones. It is less about obesity and more about the kind of development that attracts new people and new business to the corridor. That effort became a map from which the public policy was formed.

Developers have a business interest and obviously will try and do what is in their best vested interest.

Look at the "sale" of 55+ housing to the County Council several years ago. They basically said, "there will always be a need for this product and we will NEVER come back and request that you change the newly granted 55+ zone to housing that accomodates families with kids". Were they acting in good faith? Probably. Were they wrong. Absolutely.

Can this development succeed without the fast food component? Wouldn't it be nice to have a family style restaurant there as an anchor? Eggspectations, or Serafinos, or Ruby Tuesday, or Houlihan's - none of these need drive through lanes. All of these would anchor the project and allow financing. Instead, it looks like the developer will take the easy way out, and get another fast food restaurant.

And this Council will have allowed that, with very little thought about the ramifications for the corridor.

Anonymous said...

anon 11:18
You speak like many ill-informed community members who have no financial skin in the game. You can't force a business like Eggspectations, or Serafinos, or Ruby Tuesday, or Houlihan's to go anywhere. Also, unless you are on the Council, you have no idea how much thought about the ramifications for the corridor any of them gave.

Time after time we hear about folks, just like in Wilde Lake, who only talk about what is prefered, not what is and what can be.

What we have seen is no development on that type of zoning on Route 1, none. If it doesn't work, saying that the community decided years ago, isn't going to make the market change. The corridor needs leadership. That sometimes means making some changes.

In your 55+ example, you actually illustrate the point of how people acting in good faith can make a decision, be wrong and need to make changes to make it work for the community.

We didn't need that much 55+ and there is a market at that area of Route 1 for something the owner of the property wants to do.

Why continue to let properties sit unused as eyesores instead of giving the flexibility to make something happen? Who does vacant buildings, 1-hour no-tell-motels, and bars right by truckstops serve?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:03 and Anon 11:18 are saying the same thing. They just disagree over the fast food component. Flexibility doesn't mean giving the developer everything they want. But it is the politician's job to try and balance the vested interest of the developer with the what they feel is the best interest of the community as a whole. Maybe she didn't strike the perfect balance here, but I am glad someone is thinking about the balance and not just rubber stamping everything.

Anonymous said...

Has Courtney Watson ever done anything in her life that wasn't politically motivated? Take Doughoregan, for example. It seems to have gone unnoticed by the press that the Council has new legislation (CB-29-2010) before them which would substantially weaken the conditions imposed on the approval of the planned service area change (i.e., the shift in the public water and sewer line) last month. One of those conditions required the Developer’s Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA) to contain provisions for “the permanent preservation of historic structures on the property, including the manor house and historic outbuildings,” which was unexpectedly strong language and was welcomed by the neighbors. The Carrolls had suggested language which would require an easement precluding further subdivision of the “historic core” but was silent on actual permanent preservation. Now, lo and behold, we have new legislation, being spun as a “technical amendment” to correct language that was not intended. It removes the offending condition and instead replaces it with a requirement for DRRA provisions “preventing further subdivision of the historic core that includes the manor house and historic buildings.” Courtney and the rest of the Council seems to have lost track of the fact that we elected them to make the decisions on legislation, not the Carrolls, not the developers, not the attorneys and lobbyists. Last time I checked, this is still Howard County. “Carroll” County is to the north and west.

Anonymous said...

Why target cathy hudson? is she an easy mark for you to pressure into being pro developer?

community leaders would do well to remember how many of us in the community are developers and how many are not.

don't be pressured by loud or aggressive voices.

Anonymous said...

Between calling for a new high school in Elkridge that isn't needed and wanting the county to build a sewage treatment plant for the Carrolls in Ellicott City, I'm beginning to wonder if Courtney Watson lives in the same county as the employees who are going to get a week-long unpaid "vacation" again this year. Fiscal restraint should come before pandering, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Councilmembers might as well do the planning in HoCo - they already tell the Department of Planning and Zoning what to do on most development applications, usually depending on how much in campaign contributions they've received.

Anonymous said...

anon 9 59, you got that right.